Shafaqna – Shīʿa Islam: History and Doctrines / Ayatullāh Jaʿfar Subḥānī
Chapter 3: What the Qur’an and the Prophet’s tradition say about succession
The Ḥadīth of Badʾ al-Daʿwa
The ḥadīth of Badʾ al-Daʿwa (lit. ‘Beginning of the Preaching’), which is related to the beginning of the Prophet’s mission, is well-known to traditionists, historians and Qur’anic commentators. When God ordered the Prophet to call his close relatives to Islam – ‘Warn the nearest of your kinsfolk’ (Q26:214) – he told ʿAlī to prepare some food for the guests. After the leaders of the Banū ʿAbd al-MutTālib tribe had finished eating, the Prophet began to address them. He said, ‘The guide never lies. I swear by God, who is one and only, that I am His Prophet to you and all people. You will die just as you sleep and you will be resurrected just as you wake up, and you will be judged for all you do. Then there will be everlasting paradise and eternal damnation. O Sons of ʿAbd al-MutTālib! By God, I know of no youth amongst Arabs who can offer something more valuable to people than what I offer to you. I advise you to believe in God, and whoever helps me in this will be my brother, my legatee and my successor amongst you.’ The Prophet repeated his call to Islam three times, and it was ʿAlī who answered every time, ‘God’s Prophet, I am ready to help you in your mission.’ No one else responded. At this point, the Prophet said, ‘I hereby declare that ʿAlī is my brother, my legatee my and successor amongst you. So harken to him and obey!’ (Ibn Ḥanbal 1/111; Ṭabarī, 2/62; Ibn Athīr, 2/40). In this way, the Prophet declared ʿAlī his successor on the very day he declared his mission to his people.
The ḥadīth of Manzila
Scholars of ḥadīth and sīra relate that when the Prophet was setting out on the campaign of Tābūk amongst some thirty thousand men, ʿAlī asked him: ‘Shall I come with you?’ He replied: ‘no. ’ This distressed ʿAlī greatly, so God’s Messenger told him: ‘Are you not pleased to be with me in the same station (manzila) as Aaron was to Moses, except that there will be no prophet after me?’ (Bukhārī, tradition nos. 4706 and 4416). We know that Aaron, according to the Qur’an, was a prophet and, at the same time, Moses’s assistant and successor. Thus, ʿAlī was the Prophet’s assistant and his successor. According to Muslim, the famous Sunnī traditionist, when Muʿāwiya ordered people to insult ʿAlī he saw that Saʿd b. Abī Waqqāṣ did not do so. When he questioned him about the reason for this, Saʿd replied: ‘I do not insult ʿAlī because I remember three things the Prophet told him even one of which would be a great honour to me.’ And then Saʿd reported the above Prophet’s words to ʿAlī at the time of the campaign to Tābūk (Muslim 6/120).
The ḥadīth of Ghadīr
The ḥadīth of Ghadīr is one of the most widely-narrated and authentic traditions in Islam; it is narrated by no fewer than 120 Companions, ninety Successors and 360 Sunnī scholars. Ibn Taymiyya (d. 728/1328), who harboured some enmity towards ʿAlī, rejected the authenticity of the tradition. However, the latter-day representative of his school of thought, Nāṣir al-Dīn al-Albānī (1333–1424/1914–1999), criticised him for rejecting it without a thorough investigation of all of its parts. According to this tradition, after having people bear witness to the unity of God, his own prophethood and the Day of Judgment, the Prophet asked: ‘Oh, People! How will you treat the two weighty things after me?’ A man stood up and asked aloud, ‘What are they?’ The Prophet responded, ‘The greater one is the Book of God, one side of which is in God’s hand and the other is in yours. So hold fast to it lest you go astray. And the lesser one is my progeny (ʿitra). The All-Knowing One has informed me that these two will never be separated until they reach me at the Pool (hawḍ). I have asked Allāh to make this happen. Do not go ahead of them lest you perish, nor fall behind them lest you perish!’ Then, the Prophet held up ʿAlī’s hand so that people could see the whites of their armpits and everyone could recognize him. The Prophet asked people, ‘Who is more entitled (awlā) to the believers than their own selves?’ The people replied, ‘God and His Messenger know best.’ He added, ‘God is my master (mawlā) and I am the master (mawlā) of the believers. I am more entitled (awlā) to the believers than their own selves? And whoever I am the master of, then ʿAlī is his master too!’ The Prophet repeated this sentence for three times (or four times, as Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal relates). Then he added, ‘Oh, God! Be an ally to his allies and an enemy to his enemies, love those who love him and hate those who hate him, help those who help him and forsake those who forsake him. Turn rightness with him wheresoever he turns. And Lo! Let those who are present inform those who are absent!’
We would do well to ask what the purpose of such a large gathering of people was. If we take all of the Prophet’s words at Ghadīr into consideration, we will find several good reasons to believe his only purpose in stopping all those people there in the heat of day was to announce his successor to them:
Firstly, the Prophet began his address by having people bear witness to the unity of God, the truth of Judgment Day and his own prophethood. Then he proceeds to the announce succession of ʿAlī. This implies that ʿAlī’s succession to the Prophet is, in terms of its significance, on a par with those three fundamental principles of Islam. In other words, if he had intended to express his own friendship to ʿAlī or to ask others to befriend him (as some have suggested based on the different means of the word mawla), the Prophet would not have mentioned these fundamental beliefs.
Secondly, the Prophet asks people, ‘Who is more entitled (awlā) to the believers?’ before saying that ‘whoever I am the master of, then ʿAlī is his master too!’ Here, the Prophet clearly uses the word ‘mawlā’ to signify authority over the people in their social and political affairs, and protecting their lives.
Thirdly, the Prophet informs the people of his imminent death: ‘I am soon to be called, and I must respond.’ This suggests that he is thinking of and trying to make provisions for the Muslim society after his demise, particularly that there will be a leading authority for people to follow.
Fourthly, after declaring ‘whoever I am the master of, then ʿAlī is his master too’, the Prophet added, ‘God is greater, for the religion of Islam is perfected and the blessing is completed and God is now satisfied with my prophethood and ʿAlī’s wilāya.’ These sentences show that God’s religion was perfected and His blessing was completed with ʿAlī’s succession to leadership (wilāya) after the Prophet (Amīnī, 1/26, 27, 30, 32, 33, 34, 36, 47 and 176). Most clearly, the Prophet declares that God is now satisfied with his prophethood and ʿAlī’s succession as the leader of Muslims.
Fifthly, after the Prophet had finished his address, Abū Bakr and ʿUmar, along with many other Prophet’s Companions came to ʿAlī and congratulated him on the event, which lasted until sunset. Abū Bakr and ʿUmar said to ʿAlī, ‘Congratulations! Between the morning and evening of today, you have become the mawlā of all Muslim men and women’ (Amīnī, 1/27, 283).
Finally, those who do not dispute the authenticity of the tradition itself but claim that the Prophets words only meant that people should be friends of ʿAlī should pay attention to the fact that it would be incompatible with the Prophet’s wisdom to stop a caravan of about one hundred thousand people in the heat of day only to tell them to be friends of ʿAlī. ʿAlī’s friendship with the believers was not doubted, because as the Qur’an declares, all Muslims are brothers and friends to each other: ‘The believers are but a single brotherhood’ (Q46:10) and ‘The believers, men and women, are protectors of one another’ (Q9:71).
Those who have investigated the ḥadīth of Ghadīr accept its authenticity and the fact that its words were indeed uttered by the Prophet. This is why the Companions, the Successors and later scholars have related the ḥadīth and confirmed that the Prophet said on the occasion of Ghadīr: ‘whoever I am the master of, then ʿAlī is his master too.’ However, some have claimed that the Arabic word ‘mawlā’ has never been used in Arabic in the sense of ‘awlā’ (‘more entitled’) while those who employ this ḥadīth, in fact, stress this meaning in order to establish ʿAlī’s leadership after the Prophet.
In response to this objection, we may remind the critics that the word ‘mawlā,’ as many interpreters confirm, has actually been used in the Qur’an in the sense of ‘more entitled or proper.’ An example of this sense can be found in the following verse: ‘So today no ransom shall be taken from you, nor from the faithless. The Fire is your proper abode: it is your refuge and an evil destination.’ (Q57:15).